Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

Rafael Camarena

Real Name: Francisco Rafael Camarena-Macias
Aliases: None Known
Wanted For: Drug Smuggling
Missing Since: May 1990


Details: Douglas, Arizona, is a small town just across the border from Agua Prieta, Mexico. The area was known as "cocaine alley" because of the large amounts of cocaine being brought from Agua Prieta into Douglas. In the fall of 1988, Mexican national Rafael Camarena began to cross the border daily into Douglas. He owned a concrete-mixing company in Douglas and was struggling to make his business successful.
Within a few months, Camarena had secured agreements to supply concrete for many of the municipal construction projects in Douglas. In 1989, he constructed a large warehouse in Douglas. Just across the border in Agua Prieta, he built a four-bedroom ranch-style home. By all accounts, he seemed to be a nice and family-oriented man. His friends and employees in Douglas, however, were unaware that he actually was involved in drug smuggling. U.S. Customs Officials received information that he was smuggling drugs from his Agua Prieta home to his Douglas warehouse.
Agents staked out his business for over two months. They became suspicious of a flatbed truck that arrived and departed from the warehouse nearly every day. On one occasion, agents followed the truck from the warehouse to a rural area outside of Phoenix. Agents later raided the farm where his truck was last seen. Inside a farmhouse, agents seized over a ton of cocaine, valued at $1 million. The cocaine had been transported inside a hidden compartment on the truck. The raid confirmed that the drugs had come from his warehouse. However, they did not understand how he could have smuggled the drugs into his warehouse when it was being constantly watched.
Agents received information that there was a tunnel between Agua Prieta and Douglas that was being used for smuggling. Two days later, agents from both the United States and Mexico launched simultaneous raids on Camarena's warehouse and home. Two men claiming to be gardeners were arrested, but Camarena and his family had fled. Agents found a large floor drain in the warehouse. Opening the drain, they found a thirty feet deep shaft. At the bottom, they found the tunnel.
The tunnel was well-constructed; its roof, floor, and walls were all made of concrete. It extended more than 200 feet into Mexico. Agents discovered that hydraulic pedestals lifted Camarena's pool table in his basement. This was the other entrance to the tunnel. Huge amounts of drugs could be stored below until they were ready to be moved across the border. A specially designed cart was used to transport the drugs through the tunnel. A custom-made hoist was used to bring the drugs into the warehouse. Workers then placed the drugs into the false floor of the truck. This allowed Camarena to freely move drugs without U.S. Customs Official's knowledge.
Authorities are still searching for Rafael Camarena, who has not been seen since 1990. Also wanted by authorities is the architect of the tunnel, Felipe de Jesus Corona-Verbera.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the April 24, 1991 episode. It was also profiled on America’s Most Wanted.
This case has no connection to the Lost Loves case of Dolores Camarena.
Results: Captured. On November 27, 1995, Camarena was arrested off the coast of Sinaloa, Mexico, on a boat that was carrying 2.8 tons of cocaine. He was using the alias Mariano Zamora Villegas; however, at the time, Mexican authorities did not know his true identity. He was convicted on drug charges and sentenced to five years in prison.
In March 1999, after he was profiled on America's Most Wanted, authorities received a tip that he was in the Mexican prison under an assumed name. Authorities confirmed his identity and in June 2001, he was extradited to the United States for prosecution. He served additional time for drug smuggling and has since been released.